picture books that’ll make you smile…a list of five

I’m slowly making my way through the superb picture books published in 2021 which is getting a bit easier with our libraries now returning to pre-Covid, regularly scheduled hours.
This batch of five all made me smile with their cleverness, warmhearted storytelling, and phenomenal illustration work.

It Fell From the Sky, written and illustrated by The Fan Brothers
published in 2021 by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

The Brothers Fan are a team who have been mixing up magic in their studio for a number of years now, and I will happily snatch up any book with their names on it. Here’s their latest delectable creation!

When something Most Unusual falls from the sky smack into their ordinary world, the community of insects simply hums with gossip, ideas, and conjectures about it. Its wonder, mystery, and crystalline beauty invite admiration and investigation by one and all.

However, it’s only a matter of hours before crafty Mr. Spider claims that this Object rightfully belongs only  to him, and shortly after that he’s concocted a plan for a Grand Exhibit to display the “Wonder from the Sky.” Despite the community pitching in to build his exhibit, Mr. Spider feels he’s in the right to charge an entrance fee, and when demand rises it’s only reasonable that the price does as well. Soon this Wonder, which freely appeared within the insects’ world, brings Mr. Spider piles of money, although…his friends seem to have disappeared.

When disaster strikes, Mr. Spider looks around him and discovers the riches he has lost because of his greedy ways. Can clever Mr. Spider turn over a new leaf, mend fences with his neighbors, and discover better ways of celebrating the wonders in the world?

Exquisite artwork, freshly-imaginative storytelling, and a subtle delivery of fable-esque food for thought combine to make this a gem for ages 3 and up.

Let Me Fix You a Plate: A Tale of Two Kitchens, written and illustrated by Elizabeth Lilly
published in 2021 by Neal Porter Books, Holiday House

The young narrator of this story describes an annual road trip she takes with her family. The first leg of the journey involves driving hours and hours to her grandparents’ home in the hills of West Virginia.

When they arrive under star-strewn skies, Mamaw and Papaw are there to greet them. Their visit revolves around Mamaw’s kitchen — her blackberry jam on toast, the banana cream pudding they concoct together, Dad and Papaw drinking coffee out of tractor mugs.

After a few days the trek continues, winding up in Florida where Abuela’s late-night kitchen simply throbs with the noisy togetherness of Mama’s extended family munching crunchy tostones and creamy flan.

Two sets of grandparents; two cultures; two kitchens with their homey, lovingly-prepared food — all add up to one happy kid. It’s time to turn the car around and drive back. The little crew arrives tired and hungry at their own home in the city, where the whole family settles into their own midnight kitchen to cook up something delicious together. A distinctly happy, clever book celebrating the ways of family and food and a welcoming table.  Super choice for ages 4 and up.

The Little Wooden Robot and the Log Princess, written and illustrated by Tom Gauld
published in 2021 by Neal Porter Books, Holiday House

Once upon a time a king and queen longed for children of their own and were granted that wish by one good witch and one royal inventor. The two children — a wooden robot boy and a log that’s turned into a princess — delight their parents and are true blue companions for one another.

There’s one wee catch, though.  Each night, the princess turns back into a log. Each morning her brother awakens her with the secret words, “Awake, little log, awake,” and all is well.  But one morning, a small hiccup in their routine starts a cascade of wild and wooly events!

I thoroughly enjoyed this original fairy tale with its tantalizing plot, delightful pathways to further storytelling by little listeners, and bold, engaging illustration work.

It’s a book that’ll stand up to being read over and over with kids ages 4 and up.

Agnes’s Place, written by Marit Larsen, illustrated by Jenny Løvlie, translated by Kari Dickson
originally published in Norway in 2019; English edition 2021 by Amazon Crossing Kids

Okay, I love the thoroughly Scandinavian vibe to the illustration work in this book. Right from the get-go I felt happily invested in what might unfold.

It’s the story of little Agnes who has lived in a lovely urban neighborhood her whole life, knows it through and through, is well acquainted with all the folks who share it and their particular personalities. Even the birds who visit her window for a hand-out are familiar. She could use a neighbor-friend her own age, though.

Then, a new girl moves in, trundles her belongings right up the stairs, past Agnes’ door, to the fifth floor. Agnes is elated! Yet her subtle attempt at forging a friendship seems to fizzle. This new girl just seems content to play on her own. With that missed connection, we can feel Agnes’ heart crumpling inside.

Until a serendipitous meeting opens the gates to a stupendously glad friendship between these two girls.  Such a lovely story of belonging and relationship, immensely augmented by the vivid illustrations. I adore the Scandinavian architecture, interiors, patterns, and bold use of red which bathe these pages in bustle and beauty. Ages 4 and up.

On the Other Side of the Forest
written by Nadine Robert, illustrated by Gérard Dubois, translated by Paula Ayer
originally published in France in 2016; first English edition 2021 by Greystone Kids

The artwork in this book immediately transports us to “someplace else.” A strong sense of nostalgia, of old European forests and humble villages, emanates from the pages, while the anthropomorphized animal characters contribute a kind of vintage fairy tale quality.

Our narrator is a young rabbit who lives with his dad and dog on a small farm surrounded by forest. The deep woods create a foreboding atmosphere and that’s entirely the point, for “people say that wolves live in the forest, and ogres, and giant badgers. No one ever goes in there!”

All this changes one day when the father, a curious fellow and not easily frightened, declares that the two of them are going to build a tower tall enough to see what’s on the other side of that forest. It’s a hugely ambitious goal requiring untold hours of hard work and a clever strategy to corral the aid of their neighbors.

When the project is nearly complete, and father and son are at the utmost limits of their stamina, catastrophe strikes. It’s then that the community steps up, raising both hope and the physical tower.  What on earth will we see when we finally stand on the tippy top?!

The storytelling here — both textually and visually — has all the markings of an older, classic tale.  The book itself is handsome as can be. It’s an immersive experience, with the strength of community the star of the show. Ages 5 and up.

More goodies are always waiting to be discovered!
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